Our campus began using Overdrive this winter as a solution for delivery of check-outable items to our library. In January, Follett rolled out an app for their Follett Shelf product that they’ve had for a couple of years, with promises that it would now integrate with Destiny’s online catalog porduct. Since Overdrive sometimes carries only audio versions of particular e-books and not as many K-12 titles, I was interested in exploring what Shelf has to offer. We already had some e-books from Follett but we were primarily using them via the catalog since I didn’t like that Follett Shelf was a standalone unit that didn’t integrate with Destiny.
Follett finally started working on joining the two products, but it has been a bumpy ride from my experience as a consumer. Having seen a demo of the app at TCEA, I was pleased with the fact that we would have another option for delivery of K-12 ebooks and audiobooks (their Catalyst app) and purchased more e-books.
However, the process of implementing our Follett Shelves districtwide has been a very frustrating experience. ( A caveat before I go any further is that after I wrote a long letter detailing my complaints, they had a conference call with me to discuss solutions and assigned an experienced tech specifically to us and that has smoothed the transition hugely. I also appreciate management’s openness about the difficulty of this transition and their openness and willingness to discuss options for improvement with me and to ask for recommendations.)
All that being said, if you are beginning to transition to or considering purchasing Follett Shelf, be prepared for a few difficulties. One of the problems we have had is from technical support that is inexperienced with the Follett Shelf and Destiny as well. Some assitance we received would have wiped out all our Fiction call numbers had we proceeded with it. Also, the chain of command appears to be very unclear even to their staff.Sometimes when I called about the Shelf I would be sent to Tech Support, and sometimes to Customer Service with no apparent rhyme or reason. I was given incorrect information a number of times because until their latest upgrade 3 weeks ago, apparently there was a lot of inhouse confusion as well.
Some recent changes should make it easier. Through a new upgrade to Destiny, Follett has made the products integrate more automatically. At that point, Follett decided to automatically set up shelves for all users with e-books, so this will expedite the process (as before you had to ask them to set one up for you). But when ours were set up, we weren’t notified, didn’t receive any welcoming emails or instructions for setting up patrons or circulation periods, etc., nor did we receive our logins or passwords. I only discovered upon calling our sales rep that they had already been set up. Communication during this rollout has been completely lacking.
In terms of setting up the Shelf product, there are a number of steps to link the catalogs up, and set up access levels for the Shelf so that patrons feed over from Destiny. Again, I didn’t receive instructions on this process, but thankfully the rep assigned to us walked me through the entire process.
Those were all items of feedback I have given Follett directly, but if you are considering pursuing e-books via the Shelf, be persistent in getting your questions answered and don’t hesitate to complain if you are having problems with service.
Now to the actual product. The way Follett Shelf functions is that once it is set up, you can share your patrons between Destiny and Follett Shelf, but you have to have set up patron accounts within Follett Destiny originally to do that. Follett can automate that process if you have not set up your patrons and can pull data from your Student Management system if needed. Students and teachers will need these accounts in order to check out and download books online or on the app.
From thsi point forward, once you purchase e-books they will appear directly in Follett Shelf, NOT in your Destiny Marc records. My understanding is that they will “feed backwards” from Follett Shelf into Destiny. The Marc records included are minimal however and there isn’t a way to edit Marc records within the shelf, other than adding subject headings. This is a disappointing decision–it would have been much better to have the books continue to go into Destiny as one option with a complete Marc record for better searching. I’m troubled about how this is going to work in terms of effectively locating materials, although we plan to use the Shelf mostly for fiction titles.
When you login to the Shelf, it looks like similar e-book products, though not quite as polished as sites like Amazon or even Overdrive’s user interface. The covers on free public domain titles are unattractive and need work.
As far as the functionality of the books, their e-reader via the App or website works similarly to how it did before. There is a menu at the top and you turn the pages by clicking on an arrow on the top menu or on the app, by swiping. You can search for a particular page and enlarge text, display pages one or two at a time, etc. Each page loads pretty slowly, though, which is a disadvantage particularly when reading fiction. You can click through chapters of the book to find a particular one, as I did with Sheryl Nussbaum’s new book. But it is not the kind of interface iPad users would be accustomed to instead of smooth page turning.
One plus of Follett Shelf is that they do offer books that are not available via Overdrive and that you are only paying for the books you buy. And of course they offer more K-12 sorts of titles. Also some titles have multiple simultaneous access which for units, particularly in elementary, can be very helpful. You also own the books in perpetuity which is a good thing. They offer audiobook titles as well, and the prices seem more appropriate for the print titles than some of Overdrive’s.
So far, I find Follett Shelf a mixed bag of nuts. Like many e-book products out there for libraries, for the moment I’m going to have to live with it if I think our students will be using it. But it is extremely important that as customers, we give e-book companies constant feedback and become advocates for the improvements needed for our students and readers. We need to push vendors to provide the best designs and materials possible at prices that are affordable for schools. We need to speak to them about recognizing some special needs of schools, like the fact that for class sets, we often need 100 copies of a novel for 3 weeks, and it’s not really feasible to purchase those for one time uses like that if the e-book pricing isn’t affordable. As more schools move to 1:1, BYOT policies, or tablet roll-outs, solving these problems is going to be vital to our libraries so our role in this process is very important.
At least to Follett’s credit they were eager to hear more feedback after I initially wrote them. If you are a user of Follett Shelf or decide to implement it and have problems, their email feedback address is firstname.lastname@example.org. It was unfortunate that they rolled out the app before details with the Shelf weren’t completely resolved from a programming end, and before their documentation was distributed. As a company, they tend to be very responsive to customers so librarian feedback will continue to be important in improving this product.